Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chapter Two

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to start a new blog. I'd been posting on my original blog, Here Comes Johnny Yen Again for over 3 years. For various reasons, I've decided to have a fresh start.

I started "Johnny Yen" for a variety of reasons. In June of 2006, I had the worst week of my life. I'd known for a long time already that it was going to be a rough week; I'd discovered a couple of months before that I was not going to be tenured in the teaching job I was working, a job I loved. I was faced with the prospect of being a guy in his mid-forties competing in a job market against thousands of new grads who match the image that principals seemed to love-- young, female, perky and pliable. As my final week in that job approached, I got more bad news; my father had been diagnosed with cancer. There was a huge tumor in his abdomen. The doctor would not know how bad it would be until he operated, but there was a strong possibility that the cancer had gone into his pancreas-- a cancer that is nearly 100% fatal.

As I braced myself for the first two blows, my final week in a job I loved, and the possiblity of my father's death, I got the worst news I'd ever gotten in my life. My friend Mark, whom I'd been friends with since meeting him in college in 1983, had been murdered in front of his home.

As I struggled to deal with these things, I fell back on something I'd started my last year as a teacher. I'd read an article in the New York Times about a woman who'd died in one of the World Trade Center towers in 2001. I alluded to this in "Johnny Yen" a few times. Her parents had retrieved her belongings from her apartment. One of the things was a laptop. It was a couple of years before they plugged it in and examined the contents. In it was a list of life goals that ran the gamut from the mundane to the lofty and everything in between.

Their daughter had, at her young age-- late twenties-- accomplished many of her goals. I imagined that they took some comfort in knowing this. This article inspired me to create my own list. One of the goals was to start a blog. With "Johnny Yen" I did this.

Number one on my list was to make sure that I could pay for my son's college when it came time. When I set this goal, he was 11 or 12. Now he's sixteen. With that in mind, and with goal number 3, Plan for retirement-- over the next couple of years I formulated a plan for a career change. At first, I had the idea to be a pharmacist. I began taking the prerequisites for this, and left teaching, supporting myself by working as a waiter at a place I'd worked part time for years. One of my co-workers at the restaurant was studying to be a nurse, and we ended up taking classes together. As we worked together in our Biology and Microbiology classes, she kept lobbying me to consider nursing school. It would take me much less time-- 2 years verses at least six for pharmacy school and prerequisites-- and they were actually looking to get more men in the field. In January of last year, I put in my application and to my surprise got in-- very lucky, since there are many more applicants than open slots.

Here I am nearly a year into my two-year nursing program. I'm in a very different place than I was three and a half years ago, when I started "Johnny Yen." I've moved on from the anger over how my teaching career ended; I'm delighted with my choice of new career and feel that I made the right decision. My father is healthy and happy; his cancer is completely gone and it's given him a new perspective on life. And my grief over my friend has become manageable. The guy who killed my friend is behind bars for the rest of his life. I feel like the biggest tribute I can give to Mark is to live my life, raise my kids and to feel joy every day.

Why the new blog then? A few things.

First, one of my big inspirations is the "blogger formerly known as 'Barista Brat.'" She had a fascinating blog, one of the first I started reading regularly, that centered on her reflections on working for a major coffee retail chain. She made a couple of life changes, including leaving that chain, and has moved on to realizing her dream of being an author of young adult literature. With this, she's ended posting on her old blog and started a new, equally interesting one with the focus on her new incarnation, i know, write?!?. With her old blog, she was rarely posting anymore; her old life-- and old blog-- had run their courses. It's a delight not only to see how she turned lemons into lemonade, but to see her posting frequently again. I came to realize that my situation was similar.

Secondly, I realized that I was not posting on the old one for various reasons. One of them was that there were people reading it that I really didn't want reading it, including a family member-- namely my spouse. In my favorite book, Tom Robbins' "Still Life With Woodpecker," one of the points is that in order to share a life with someone you also have to have a space of your own. Perhaps it's a corallary of "Good fences make good neighbors." I held back on certain things-- including references to previous relationships and marriages. I feel a lot freer to allude to these things now, including my reflections on an old lover who is still a close friend who has discovered she is seriously ill.

And lastly, there were a couple of people who felt compelled to put their two cents in who'd gotten on my very last nerve. To quote my late grandfather, "Everybody's entitled to their own stupid opinion." But it doesn't mean I want to hear it.

I plan on continuing some of the old stuff-- politics, history and my life-- but plan on delving a little more into art. I'll continue some features that people seem to like-- the "One-Hit Wonders" and "Chicago Stories." There will be, of course, stories about my kids and reflections on nursing school and some new ideas I have.

I hope that this new format will make me write more often and I hope it interests the old readers who follow me, and any new ones I may get.

The name of the blog is a reference to my favorite poem, Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." From the first time I ever read it, the poem has gripped me. One of the first lines, about "angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night" is stunning and beautiful. My life has been one of trying to balance being true to friends and lovers, and of course, to "mine own self," with also attempting to find that joy and wonder that life offers up. Sometimes, those things even cross. As I approach my 50th year of life, getting ready to launch my kids into adulthood and myself into a new career, it seems more important than ever to embrace those things that bring me joy.

Oh, and one more thing-- new blog, new nome de plume: Johnny Rojo. Most of you probably know that "rojo" is Spanish for "red." As I approach fifty, I've realized that my politics continue to be unabashedly, unrepentantly and unapolegetically leftist.

And what of my old blog? I think I'll leave it up-- I think of it as lying fallow. I may return to it eventually. Time will tell.


Erik Donald France said...

Very sly, very cool -- good luck with the new incarnatin and please do keep up the former version for posterity. It may also wind up in the LC or National Archives. If Twitter can, blogger should . . .

Three cheers! Will add a link and be back soon . . .

mi said...

johnny, i have always enjoyed your writing and you can't imagine what an incredible feeling it is to see you've listed me as one of your inspirations for this new blog.

believe it or not, i too considered becoming a pharmacist and planned to go back to school for it, but that was before i had my son.
one day i might still go back to school, but for now he is my focus.

is it ok if i link this blog on mine?

Johnny Rojo said...

MI-I would be very honored!